Give Me a Moment and Give Me the Sound
It was a graveyard smash
This year's festival started with one of those classic clusterfucks that only seems to happen at industry-clogged confusion-fests like CMJ. I wanted to walk from the Voice offices at Cooper Square to Hiro Ballroom over on 9th Avenue so I could take in at least a little bit of Halloween atmosphere before plunging headlong into the massive schmooze. But it turns out there's no such thing as a little bit of Halloween atmosphere in Manhattan, and I got turned away from crossing 6th Avenue by a group of particularly harried-looking cops guarding the massively annoying Halloween parade.For the record, this year's three most popular costumes: (1) guy in jail, (2) ugly goth chick with batwings, (3) Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Whoever planned to start CMJ on Halloween deserves to spend all of eternity attempting to traverse logjammed sidewalks crammed with the guy from V for Vendetta.
So I was twenty minutes late getting to the Hiro Ballroom to see the Israeli-born French-based chamber-pop boutique crooner Keren Ann, but it didn't much matter, since she was forty-five minutes late getting onstage. Pretty much the only thing punk about Ann is her sense of punctuality; the Christmas-lights backdrop and crane-mounted cameras and elegantly rumped session-musician backing band (keyboards, guitar, trumpet) gave her show a deeply middlebrow Sessions at West 54th vibe. Ann's big selling point is her voice, a gorgeously strong and shivery alto that would probably net Norah Jones comparisons even if the two weren't already labelmates. Everything about her songs seems calculated to highlight that voice, always the loudest element of her arrangements. The instrumentation is diffuse and prettily soft-focus, and it's only when her trumpeter starts blowing a solo through a wah-wah pedal that you start to wonder what she might be able to do with it if she surrounded it with some equally strong arrangements. Stylistically, Ann drifts back and forth between coffeehouse fake-country and airless Gallic glide, and the Gallic stuff generally hits about one million percent harder. Even then, it's hard to settle down enough to focus on her coo when you've got other places to be, so I left after half an hour. Her new songs sounded pretty good, but they'll sound a whole lot better when I'm lying on my couch and reading a book on a rainy afternoon. There's no time for simple prettiness at CMJ.
Voice feature: Emma Pearse on Keren Ann
Further down the West side, police herded a chaotic mass of parade-overflow pedestrian traffic past the S.O.B.'s entrance, a spectacle of seething confusion that fucked my sense of direction all up for a few minutes. Once I figured out where I was and got past the asshole bouncers, though, the scene in the club was remarkably pleasant, especially given that most of my past S.O.B.'s experiences have revolved around shockingly disorganized rap shows. If opening night hadn't been quite so slow and good shows so hard to come by, I probably never would've gone out of my way to see the eight-piece Michigan Afrobeat crew Nomo, but the band's loose, limber, largely instrumental set was a hidden gem. There couldn't have been more than forty people in the club, but that didn't stop the band from blatting hard through its nimble, spikey clave-driven beats. The band's songs are long, and they're jammed with peaks and valleys and breakdowns. They might've made for a stronger live act if there was a clear frontman onstage; the gawky keyboardist who did all the talking between songs was maybe the least charismatic person up there. But none of that mattered when they clambered down offstage to finish their set on the floor with the almost nonexistant crowd, the sort of goodwill gesture that transcends the whole CMJ circus.
But then, it's not like there was a whole lot of circus going on at S.O.B.'s or, for that matter, at the Hiro Ballroom; not too many badge-holders, it seems, can be bothered to make their way west of Broadway. Over at the Bowery Ballroom, it was a whole other story; bouncers were turning away badges at the door, and industry types were fighting for elbow room, with good reason. I'd seen the Rapture open for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at a shitty suburban Baltimore jam-band club, and I'd seen them rock an Apple Store in-store, but I'd never seen them in their natural habitat, headlining a midsized downtown club to a crowd that couldn't be more amped to see them. They walked onstage in skeleton costumes and fumbled through a half-choreographed "Monster Mash" dance routine, but after that, it was down to business. The had played the larger Webster Hall the night before, and last night's setlist wasn't much different from the one that Matthew Fluxblog posted for that show: no slow-jams, no psyche-rock excursions, no jittery post-hardcore Gravity Records throwbacks, nothing but fierce, ecstatic goth-disco throwdowns. A couple of older songs were even stronger after tuneups. Matt Safer introduced "I Need Your Love" as "an old rave song," and they treated it as such. And they stripped the electro gloss off of "Sister Savior" and played it as terse, sinewy live-band funk. But everything was left with its steamroller drive firmly intact, and Luke Jenner's unhinged demon-shriek gave their climactic moments an extra jolt of fury. If I see a better set over the next four nights, I'll be shocked.
Voice feature: Tom Breihan on the Rapture Voice review: Jaime Lowe on the Rapture's Pieces of the People We Love Voice review: Rob Tannenbaum on the Rapture at Bowery Ballroom Voice review: Michaelangelo Matos on the Rapture's Echoes
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